Letter to Prospective
Graduate Students

This letter contains a detailed description of our research program. I hope you find it informative! tct

17 October 2011

Dear Potential Graduate Students, Undergraduate Students and Postdocs:

Thank you for your inquiry about research opportunities in my lab and the graduate program at the University of Hawaii. My lab is engaged in some exciting research that involves serious, highly motivated and hard working students. Below is information about our working environment in hopes that it will help in the decision process for your graduate career.

My area of specialization is the behavior and sensory biology of fishes from an ecological and evolutionary perspective. Research in our lab is broadly focused on questions of how the brain processes biologically relevant information, how sensory systems increase individual fitness, and why sensory systems have evolved to their current configurations and functions.  Our lab has investigated  the "neuroecology" of the lateral line, electrosensory, olfactory and auditory systems of stingrays, sharks and coral reef teleosts. Our tools include gross anatomy, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology;  the action of neuropeptide hormones on social behavior (Dewan and Tricas 2011) and sensory processing (Maruska and Tricas 2011); and testing the effects of sensory systems on behavior. Our current work on elasmobranchs involves modeling the spatial projections of the entire electrosensory array (see Rivera et al. 2011), and identifying the neuroanatomical pathways for computational neural network models. If you are interested in studying the ecology or movement patterns of elasmobranch fishes without direct interest in their sensory systems, you should consider contacting Dr. Kim Holland who is on our graduate faculty and is heavily involved in shark field studies.

We are heavily involved in understanding the use of sounds for social communication by coral reef fishes. This work involves studies of 1) sound production and brain encoding during social interactions (Maruska et al. 2007), single unit neural processing of sound stimuli (Maruska and Tricas 2009b), and 3) mechanisms of sound production (Boyle and Tricas 2010). We are also investigating the potential use of fish sounds on coral reefs as an enviornmental monitoring tool.  In this study, we deploy long term acoustic monitors on shallow coral reefs and record sounds across the year.  Divers use rebreather units to record specific bioacoustic behaviors (e.g. sound produced during spawning, feeding, aggression) of identified species. From these observations, we hope to use sounds from known species to screen the long term recordings and establish seasonal, lunar and daily periodicity of fish activities. You can review more of our past and recent research productivity at Tricas Lab Publications.

My research lab is at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology which is located on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay. This facility is on the windward side of Oahu and about a 30 minute drive from the main Manoa campus. It offers unique opportunities to study fishes on coral reefs and local populations of sharks and rays.

Currently there are five grad students working in my lab on the behavior, ecology and sensory neurobiology of fishes. Our lab has a weekly journal club meeting at HIMB to discuss lab issues, student research progress, and research papers in many areas of fish ecology and sensory biology.  See Lab Members for a more detailed look at student researchers in the lab.

I am a faculty member in the Department of Zoology which is located on the main campus in Manoa Valley near Honolulu where most graduate students take their formal classes and seminars. I teach an undergraduate course each year in Ethology.  My two graduate courses are Principles of Animal Behavior and Behavior and Sensory Biology of Fishes which are taught on alternate years.  I also teach a graduate Seminar in Animal Behavior in which we discuss current topics in behavior. My philosophy for graduate courses is to promote student self-study and independent thinking. It is my opinion that professional development is best met in graduate courses through research projects, scientific writing, oral presentations and class participation by everyone.

The Department of Zoology has approximately 100 graduate students and 40 graduate faculty (from Zoology and other departments/research units) with many engaged in marine research.  Admission to the Zoology graduate program is quite competitive.  In order for students to be considered for admission to the Zoology Department, they must be sponsored by one of our graduate faculty, usually by early January.  These students are then evaluated by the Graduate Admissions Committee, which places high value on undergraduate performance (GPA), GRE scores, research experience and letters of recommendation.  The final number of admitted students varies from year to year, and depends upon many factors such as available space, assistantships, number of applicants, etc.  In the last few years, average GRE scores for successful applicants have ranged in the 60th to 90th percentiles.

Your graduate school expenses can be supported in a number of ways. The ideal situation would be for you to receive a scholarship from one of many extramural agencies  or foundations (NSF, NIH, Fullbright, etc.).  However, this approach requires a carefully planned fellowship proposal that is coordinated with me (and must be planned well in advance of your anticipated starting date). With a fellowship award you would be able to devote your full time to course work and research. I often have funds for student assistantships, but these vary in availability. The Department of Zoology also offers competitive teaching assistantships that provide a stipend and tuition waiver. The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology occasionally has assistantships for work at the island.  In many cases, opportunities for support come after you receive the acceptance letter (without a TA or RA) so don't loose heart if you don't get a full ride right away.   The bottom line is to first know WHY you NEED to go to graduate school, get accepted, and then go full blast for your degree so you can get to your NEXT CAREER GOAL.  In the last few years, every student that has joined our lab has made a trip to Hawaii by the new year to meet with the lab members, learn about grad school at UH and get a feel for our research environment.  It would be best if you could do that too.

Students in my lab understand that the most important thing they can do is to publish their research in the primary literature. Since each student represents serious time, space and support from the lab, most research is published in joint authorship with me (in most cases the student is senior author). I strongly encourage students to join the American Elasmobranch Society, Animal Behavior Society, American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Sigma Xi, Society of Comparative and Integrative Biology, and/or Society for Neuroscience and to present their research at the national meetings. These meeting are memorable and a great professional experience.

I hope that you have found this information useful. If you are still interested in graduate work in my lab, please email me with any questions. If you are serious about being considered for my lab, you must also send me a detailed letter of introduction (by snail mail to the address below no later than 1 December 2011) that includes:


     1) a letter that states your career goals, experience and research interests,

     2) your CV (that includes name and phone numbers of at least 3 references who can comment on your research potential

     3) unofficial college transcripts and GRE scores.


Please be advised that to gain admission to the Zoology graduate program you must find a graduate faculty member who will sponsor your application, apply to the UH Graduate Division, and also send separate information to the Zoology Department.   For more information call the Zoology office at (808) 956-8617 or email your request to zoology@hawaii.edu.  Please do not hesitate to contact me for further discussion or arrange to meet if you visit Hawaii.

Aloha and I hope to hear from you soon,

Timothy C. Tricas, Professor
Department of Zoology

2538 The Mall, Edmondson Hall
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822


tricas @ hawaii.edu

PS. The Department of Zoology is morphing into the Department of Biology, but for now applying to Zoology will suffice..

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